Kery Murakami, reluctant news entrepreneur, is the founder of the Seattle PostGlobe, a nonprofit Web startup that provides reported news for the Seattle area. He is also the site’s primary reporter, editor, art director, accountant, copy chief, IT troubleshooter, and press agent. “Six months ago I never thought I’d be here,” he says, somewhat wearily. “But this could happen to you.”
A veteran reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Murakami lost his job when that paper ceased its print operations in March 2009. In April, more out of reportorial reflex than any latent entrepreneurial ambition, he launched the PostGlobe, with a $2,000 budget and a full-time staff of one. “What’s the alternative?” he asks. “You apply for jobs that 20,000 other people are applying for that you’re not going to get, or you try something.”
Murakami, forty-three, is low-key and likable, with an empathetically pessimistic demeanor, as if he suspects that the world will let him down but refuses to blame it for doing so. He stutters when he speaks and is almost pathologically self-deprecating, repeatedly referring to himself as “the stupid idiot who started this thing.” His wallet is made out of duct tape.
“It’s amazing that this thing has grown up around him,” says Justin Carder, the PostGlobe’s informal technical advisor. “It’s funny who we gather around in these times.”
He spent nine years at the Post-Intelligencer, primarily as a metro reporter, preceded by stints at newspapers like the Seattle Times, the Tacoma, Wash. Morning News Tribune, and the Jersey Journal in Hudson County, N.J. (“Number one per capita in drug arrests and number two per capita in the AIDS rate. Great place to be a reporter.”) During the last couple years of his P-I tenure, he wrote about urban vanishing points—dive bars losing their leases, neighborhoods that were gentrifying, local landmarks losing out to the slowly encroaching geography of nowhere. In one of his last stories for the paper, he reported on the final days of Uncle Mo’s Planet Georgetown, a much-loved neighborhood bar adorned with photographs of patrons both past and present. “Sometimes,” he wrote, “it seems as if Seattle’s becoming a city of goodbyes.”
The Post-Intelligencer’s abrupt demise and the consequent turmoil remain an open wound for Murakami. “To be torn apart like that is kind of hard,” he says. “It’s been sort of painful to even talk to people who still work at the P-I.” A recent PostGlobe business meeting turned elegiac as the participants spoke of former colleagues’ fates: freelancing; public relations; contract work; unemployment. “Andy Schneider’s a two-time Pulitzer winner,” Murakami says. “He’s got a blog that no one reads.”
The PostGlobe is his attempt to avoid a similarly obscure end. The site offers extensive reporting and commentary, both original and aggregated, on Seattle politics, sports, arts, and other topics of local interest (October 12th’s lead story: “Ever Wondered Why Cars Must Wait For Boats at Seattle-Area Bridges?”). Although some former P-I colleagues contribute to the site, its tight budget (the “Jobs” link at the bottom of the PostGlobe home page leads to an error message) means that Murakami is its primary and often sole original reporter. “If I look back at the times at the P-I when I used to bitch about shit, I wonder what the fuck I was thinking,” he says.
Equal parts journalist, sprinter, and octopus, he single-handedly covered Seattle’s mayoral primary this summer: dashing between campaign events from morning to night; banging out copy in transit and filing on the fly; hunting down wireless hotspots and power outlets; rewriting the last story while reporting on the next; stealing away during evening events in order to update the site, answer e-mails, and maintain his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“Election Week nearly killed me,” he says, flatly. “I think I held my own. I was literally working all fucking day and all fucking night to do that.” Still, he concedes that there is room for improvement: “The quality of writing has been better. There’s typos in the stories. There’s comments on the site about every typo we have. Someone will leave a comment saying ‘hire a copy editor.’ We have no money. We’re running for our lives here. I don’t know why people think we’re a fully staffed newsroom with a copy desk rather than just one guy with a laptop running around town half-crazed.”
His work with the Post-Globe has brought Murakami recognition from commentators both far and near. (“I got interviewed by some guy in France.”) But the publicity hasn’t translated into material support. The biggest individual donation Murakami had received as of September was something like $500. “Our business plan up to now is the same as a homeless man on the side of the street, with a sign saying ‘Give us money,’” admits Murakami. “It’s not working.”
He has vague plans for courting donors and advertisers, and mentions an impending scheme whereby readers would pay to support the sort of news they want to read. Eventually, he hopes the site will be cooperatively owned by the local community. But for now, his ambitions far exceed his resources—a matter of no small frustration.
“All these months that I’ve been trying to hang on, I really thought that somebody in Seattle would say ‘Hey, this is a good idea, I’ll try to help,’” he says. “But that hasn’t happened.” He hasn’t drawn a steady paycheck in months. And although he’s in a better financial situation than some of his former colleagues—Murakami is unmarried, childless, and free from significant debt—he realizes he can’t continue like this forever.
“It’s weird, ’cause if I was sane I’d quit this shit and do something else,” he says. “But what’s going on makes me want to be a reporter more than ever before. It’s so essential, and I want to be a part of it. I want to be a reporter so much.”
For more CJR profiles, click here.Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.